Adelman, Saunders Have Coaching Connection

Adelman, Saunders Have Coaching Connection

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Rick Adelman’s presence is tangible. He commands respect from his players and peers not only because of his two decades worth of success but also the way he treats those around him. He’s known as a player’s coach, and this week at Timberwolves Training Camp he’s appeared just that. He’s been vocal, working closely with all of the groups—however they’re divided up—and nurturing the schemes his teams have long been successful running in the NBA.

Off to the sidelines, President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders watches from the stands. He chats with members of his staff, mostly general manager Milt Newton, while also spending time chatting with team owner Glen Taylor when he’s in attendance. It’s a new role for Saunders, who is used to being in the thick of the action as a head coach. But it’s one he seems to very much embrace. He’s been the curator of this Wolves team this offseason, working closely with Adelman to try and piece together a roster that not only fits his coach’s philosophies but also fit together with the type of chemistry needed to succeed.

Together, Adelman and Saunders have a combined 1,640 wins, 18 50-win seasons and 27 playoff appearances.

That’s a formula for success, especially because over the course of the summer the two seem to have showcased the same initiatives and plans for their personnel. Adelman has always had a strong relationship with Kevin Martin—Saunders found a way to bring him to Minnesota. The Wolves needed a defensive wing that could also run the floor and occasionally hit the corner three—Saunders brought in Corey Brewer. Adelman always valued what Chase Budinger brings to a team within his system—he re-signed this offseason.

Together, the two hope to invigorate this franchise and get the team back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

“Rick is really, I don’t want to say rejuvenated, but he’s really gone and looked at a lot of different things,” Saunders said. “Looked at a lot of tape from a lot of different teams, and I believe when you see the team play you’ll see some differences. A lot of it will be similar, but he’ll do some other things. From the beginning, he talked about changing some of the things he did. There’s a reason why he won 1,000 games in this league, and he’s still in the league. You have to be able to adapt. If you adapt to your situations and you adapt to your personnel, that’s how you’re able to survive and have success.”

Saunders is adapting, too. He’s very much involved in the team and making sure the right personnel is on the roster, but he’s not in the day-to-day role that a coach normally would be. He’s been on the floor during Draft workouts and such, but he’s not on the court during team practices. That’s reserved for Adelman and his staff.

This year, Adelman has been very hands on during Training Camp. He’s right there on the court walking alongside Rubio when he has a suggestion or is answering a question. He’s pushing the pace of drills and he’s encouraging the team to up its tempo.

With Saunders on board this year, he also has a former coach on hand that is 20th all-time in NBA wins. Having someone with that background to rally off information and thoughts is a bonus to his coaching staff. Not only that, but Saunders is not in every coach’s meeting, so it gives him a fresh perspective on what ideas are being suggested.

It’s a similar dynamic that Adelman said he had with former player Geoff Petrie, who was his President of Basketball Operations in Sacramento.

“For me, I want his input even though I’m still going to make the final decision on what goes on with the team,” Adelman said. “I want his input and ideas. I think that was one of the great things I had for so many years with Geoff Petrie. He was never afraid to tell me what he thought, and I think it’s good to listen to somebody because when you’re on the coaching staff, you’re dealing with that every day and sometimes before you know it, two weeks have gone by and games come so quickly. Where as you get somebody who’s not in your meetings, just observing, gives you input, you think about it and it helps you.”

They’ve spent time talking this summer about getting their bigs more involved in facilitating the basketball, which is something that really helped keep Adelman’s Sacramento teams in title conversations in the early 2000s. Love is the team’s best scorer, but if he’s able to get his teammates involved it will only help open up space for himself and for others.

Having been a coach in this league, Saunders is able to take part in that dialogue.

“We talked a lot about it, and I’ve talked to Kevin Love about it, is that Kevin Love has to be a facilitator offensively,” Saunders said. “He has to be able to initiate the offense more, he has to be a facilitator and a feeder. I’m not going to say like Kevin Garnett was, but because of who he is offensively and because of his threat to shoot the ball, his threat that he’s so good when he has the ball, that he can attract a lot of attention. With attention comes opportunity for other players, because attention means somebody is leaving somebody open. He’s got to be very much aware of that and hopefully work on that.”

That’s the partnership Adelman and Saunders share. They have the no-how and the basketball IQs, and they have 1,600-plus NBA wins to prove it.

“I think it’s going to be great having Flip around, and I know he knows the league very well,” Adelman said. “He knows what it takes to win, and he’ll have the people he think can do that. I think it’s going to be a very positive move from my standpoint, and I’m looking forward to it.”

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